Community-Based Health Plans Address Pediatric Obesity Epidemic

Fifteen Alliance of Community Health Plan (ACHP) members across the U.S. have launched initiatives to engage their communities, members and providers in combating childhood obesity. Their innovative work is highlighted in the new ACHP report, “Pediatric Obesity: Addressing a National Challenge at a Local Level.”

As community-based health plans, ACHP organizations know the pediatric obesity epidemic poses threats to individuals and communities. Over the last 30 years, the rate of overweight or obese children has tripled. This trend represents a significant public health concern, as it holds severe health consequences for millions of children, including a higher risk of asthma, diabetes, liver disease and cardiovascular disease.

“Reducing pediatric obesity is a challenge that depends on partnerships – with the kids themselves, but also with their parents, schools, health care providers and even local businesses and governments to promote different behaviors and healthier lifestyles.  In short, improving the health of a population involves changing behaviors within the community,” said ACHP President and CEO Patricia Smith. Over the years, ACHP plans have invested in their neighborhoods, parks, schools, local businesses and community centers to build a brighter, healthier future. ACHP plans have introduced dozens of innovative, community-level programs that support healthy living, often through partnerships with local providers, businesses and consumer organizations.

One example of a multi-pronged approach is Pittsburgh-based UPMC Health Plan’sHEALTHY Armstrong. The program, standing for Healthy Eating Active Lifestyles Together Helping Youth, focuses on education using community partnerships. UPMC Health Plan partners with the Armstrong School District, ACMH Hospital/Foundation and Children’s Community Pediatrics to help children maintain a healthy weight through improved nutrition and increased physical activity. Results have shown an improvement in healthy behaviors, notably a 15 percent decrease in consumption of high calorie, low nutrition foods. The program was recognized in the Healthy Communities Act of 2009 as a model for community organizations to emulate. Michael J. Culyba, MD, Vice President of Medical Affairs at UPMC Health Plan, says, “HEALTHY Armstrong is a tremendous opportunity to actively participate in a true community-based collaboration that addresses a significant national public health concern – pediatric obesity.”

Other health plan examples highlighted in the ACHP report include:

  • HealthPartners in Minneapolis engages the entire family in making behavior changes in its Families in it Together (FIIT) program.
  • Kaiser Permanente Georgia uses Operation Zero to promote physical activity, educate kids on healthy eating and provide incentives for participation. Data has shown success in decreasing body fat and waist size for participants.
  • Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin’s (GHC-SCW) Kids Café aims to increase access to healthier foods and combat pediatric obesity. Similar to the First Lady’s “Let’s Move!” campaign, GHC-SCW partners with the Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition and the Second Harvest Food Bank to provide healthy food to low-income children.

ACHP plans are leading a range of initiatives to address the childhood obesity epidemic, from research-driven pilot projects focused on outcomes to partnerships with government leaders, statewide associations and local providers. This comprehensive approach demonstrates how health insurance plans can play a prominent role – as a local integrator of resources and stewards of community health – to combat a rising epidemic. This report highlights specific examples of ACHP plans engaging three important stakeholders in childhood health – communities, members and their families and providers – in order to build healthier communities.

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The Alliance of Community Health Plans (ACHP) is a national leadership organization bringing together innovative health plans and provider groups that are among America’s best at delivering affordable, high-quality coverage and care. The community based and regional health plans and provider organizations from across the country that make up ACHP’s membership provide coverage and care for approximately 16 million Americans. These 22 organizations focus on improving the health of the communities they serve and are on the leading edge of innovations in affordability and the quality of care, including patient care coordination, patient-centered medical homes, accountable health care delivery and use of information technology. For more information visit www.achp.org.